Tuesday Travel

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Amsterdam. The final stop of our European adventure and the place that may have just stolen my heart. Known as the Venice of the North, Amsterdam is a city inhabited by more bikes than people. Can you believe that? K and I toured the city on bikes our final day and it was unreal how many bikers we had to compete with. What did I love most about the city? The air. It was just delightful. I think it’s due to the fact that the majority of the city is below sea level. It fondly reminded me of my island air. There is so much to see and do and eat in Amsterdam and I fear that K and I didn’t even scratch the surface. But, our favorite spots are below.

Stay

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We went back and forth on where to stay in Amsterdam. A house boat, a hotel, a city flat. In the end, we decided on this sweet canal house in the historic Jordaan neighborhood, which we found through airbnb. And what a terrific experience we had. I know several people have had varying degrees of success with this service but we lucked out. My one word of advice would be to read the reviews and all of them.

There were three hotels that K and I fell in-love with during our research and thus we decided to check them out by indulging in afternoon cocktails. The Conservatorium Hotel has a beautiful bar area and is a close walk to the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum and thus the perfect spot for a post-art cocktail. The gin and tonics are served in red wine goblets and are delicious and a little dangerous. The Hoxton, which opened this past July, is certainly the place we will stay on our next visit. The bar scene, decor and location make it a dream place to stay. Sadly, we didn’t make it to The Dylan, but their outdoor terrace looks insane for drinks.

Eat

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The food in Amsterdam is one of the reasons why I loved our time there so much. Great cafes, little bakeries, a restaurant in a greenhouse… the dining possibilities are endless. Our favorites include:

Kantijil – I enjoyed my first Indonesian meal from Kantijil. A little tip. They have a take-out spot behind the main restaurant and thus we decided to grab food to go to enjoy our first dinner at home in the canal house.

Winkel – The best apple pie!

SLA – If I could have brought a cafe home it would have been SLA. Meaning lettuce, this “green” cafe offers delicious salads, juices and soups.

Pancakes! – What waffles are to Belgium, pancakes are to Amsterdam. And Pancakes! is the place we were told not to miss. I tried the traditional bacon and apple {pictured above}. So good!

La Perla – Hands-down, the best margarita pizza I’ve ever had. Period.

De Bakkerswinkel – Great lunch spot. I recommend the toast with pea pesto and old cheese. Perfection!

Pluk – A sweet little juice bar in the Nine Streets area of Amsterdam.

De Kas – I had the most beautiful meal of my life here. And the setting, equally as beautiful. An Amsterdam must!

BUFFET van Odette – A charming cafe offering breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Foodhallen – Amsterdam’s version of Chelsea Market. The coolest part? They have a bike garage so naturally we had to ride our bikes here.

STACH – Gourmet food store, cafe and home to a brownie dipped in chocolate. It was so good, we went twice!

Vinnies – There is an old Dutch expression that “loves goes through the stomach” and Vinnies shows this through and through. We had our last breakfast at this neighborhood cafe and the eggs were sinfully good.

Do + See

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There are 75 museums in Amsterdam. K and I made it to three. But, I think we picked the not-to-be-missed ones. A visit to the newly restored Rijksmuseum is a must. Close by is the Van Gogh Museum. As luck would have it, on our walk from the Rijksmuseum to the Van Gogh Museum we stumbled upon a kiosk selling museum tickets. So, we purchased our tickets and followed the blue path over to Van Gogh. Thank goodness we did as the line to get in was insane. Speaking of line, the Anne Frank House is not to be missed but I recommend going around 6 pm. We only had to wait about 40 minutes.

You must, must, MUST ride bikes in Amsterdam. We were a bit intimidated by the sheer volume of bikers and thus decided to take our bikes to Vondelpark. I highly recommend.

Many asked and I am happy to report that we didn’t tour the Red Light District or a local coffee shop. Since I’m no longer in college, thought it was best!

Shop

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K and I had a blast walking around our neighborhood and the historic Nine Streets to do a little shopping. And let me tell you, that shopping in Amsterdam is some of the best. Our favorite shops include:

Restored – A shop filled with gifts for you and your loved ones. I fell in-love with a wallet here that I didn’t buy but may just need to call to have them send it to me.

Six and Sons – A wonderfully curated selection of clothing and accessories for women, men and the home. I picked up a pair of Danish sunglasses here that I just love.

Hutspot – Amsterdam is all about this pop-up stores and this is certainly one not to be missed. A barber shop and cafe make a great addition to this pop-up featuring new and interesting brands, designers, artists and entrepreneurs. A must in Amsterdam!

Sukha – This shop takes merchandising to a whole new level. The hanging tent bed above it just one of the many displays that will make this a shop you will never want to leave. A must in Amsterdam!

Pieters Zoon – Although this is primarily a leather goods store, K and I found a wonderful throw and picture frames that journeyed home with us. And the shop owner was just the sweetest thing!

Tuesday Travel

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The second stop of our European adventure was Bruges, Belgium. A short hour and fifteen minute train ride from Brussels, Bruges is the most well-preserved medieval town in Europe and has a small town charm similar to my little island. Although the weather was a bit cold and rainy, K and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of our time in this picturesque town. Here are just a few of the highlights from our time In Bruges. Note: skip the movie.

Stay

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We stayed at the delightful Hotel Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce, tucked down a little alley minutes from the central Markt. This was our view. Picture perfect, don’t you agree?!. And even better, the service. Belgian waffles at a moment’s notice. Amazing! I had originally wanted to stay at Number 11 B&B but they were sold out. How happy are we that this worked out!

Eat

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We arrived in Bruges to a torrential downpour so naturally a pub was in-order. We had pinned De Garre on our Pinterest board, which by the way is a great way to capture all your travel ideas, and were happy to discover that it was a short distance from our hotel tucked down an alley {are you sensing a theme}, which in a rain storm was a good thing indeed. Truth be told, we walked by it the first time. But thank goodness we found it as De Garre was exactly what we hoped it would be. A place where you instantly feel like a local. We tried the house brew, Garre and enjoyed a grilled cheese sandwich and some bar snacks. A must-do in Bruges.

Luckily, the sun broke through so after a beer {or two} we decided to explore by foot. We found Dumon, the chocolate hotspot of Bruges according to many. After selecting a few goodies to bring home as gifts, we decided to indulge our sweet tooth a little more at Oyya, an ice bar known for their ice cream, frozen yogurt and waffles. The after eight was my clear choice and K had a Belgian waffle with Nutella ice cream. The closest in terms of deliciousness to our beloved Juice Bar.

The best meal during our time in Bruges was at the Brouwerij De Halve Maan, a brewery established in 1564. They have a wonderful patio and with the sun shining, we enjoyed traditional cheese croquettes and a blond brew. I had hoped to spend an afternoon at a tea house, but sadly the one I had read about Merveilleux was closed.

Do + See

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Bruges is filled with history and charm and there is oh so much to see. My top recommendation would be to take a canal tour. I believe there are five different companies and we simply chose the one closest to our hotel. The tour lasted a little over an hour and for a water girl like me, I was in heaven. My favorite part? Seeing the yellow lab with his head in the sun. Just take a look.

My second recommendation would be to climb the 366 steps to the top of the Belfort Tower for a 360 degree view of this magical town. The higher up you get, the narrower the staircase so be prepared. Coming down I must have looked in distress, as a woman asked “are you ok?” I was just being cautious and moving slow!

My favorite church of the trip {there we many} was the Basilica of the Holy Blood. The chapel, built in the 12th century, is pictured above. The Basilica is said to house a vial of Christ’s blood. You really must visit. Church of Our Lady is also top of many visitor’s list as it houses a Madonna & Child sculpture by Michelangelo from 1504. Cool fact: this statue has been recovered twice. Once from the french revolutionaries in 1794 and once from Nazi Germans in 1944. The church also has the second tallest brick tower in the world.

A short distance from the brewery is Minnewater, what many refer to as the Lake of Love and you will see many a visitor snapping a selfie here. Fortunately, we found a kind man to take our photo, which may just be a contender for this year’s holiday card.

And last but certainly not least, you must take an evening stroll through Bruges. The lighting is… you just have to trust me on this one. Bruges, a place certainly beyond belief.

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Tuesday Travel

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As promised, today I am excited to share all the details from the first stop of our European tour… Brussels. Home to the European Union, TinTin, nearly 400 Embassies, and a beer hall with over 2,000 beers, Brussels certainly does have lots to offer. And while many suggested we skip Brussels and head right to Bruges, I am happy we decided to kick off the first two days of our vacation here. So without further adieu, here are my Brussels must-do’s.

Stay

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Hotel Des Galeries. My most favorite hotel ever. The location, the decor, the pillows. Located around the corner from the Galeries Royales Saint Hubert, this picture perfect hotel is close to everything you will want to see in Brussels including the Grand-Place and Manneken-Pis. And although I was a bit worried when I saw just how close we were to the Grand-Place, I was pleasantly surprised by how quiet the rooms were. The bathrooms are breathtaking and are stocked with my favorite Malin + Goetz products. And, Comptoir des Galeries, owned by French chef Julien Burlat, is connected to the hotel and serves the most delicious continental breakfast.

Note: This photo was not our room but sadly my photo was a bit too dark due to the grey weather we encountered. These photos are from the hotel website.

Eat

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The first thing K asked upon our arrival was “what do you want to do?” To which I replied, “I want to eat a Belgian waffle!” Fortunately, the Gaufre de Bruxelles was around the corner from our hotel and let me tell you they have the best waffle EVER. Although there were cheaper options outside of the main square, these were euros well spent!

For those who know my girl well, they know she loves her beer so of course we had to find a spot to enjoy a traditional Belgian brew.

Across from the Manneken-Pis is an eclectic bar Poechenellekelder, filled with treasures and beer paraphernalia where I tried my first sugar beer. Quite tasty if I do say. After we finished the first {of many} beers, we decided to head to The Delirium Cafe {thankfully a stones through away from our hotel) to dive into their menu of over 2,000 beers. My girl was in heaven!

With a slight buzz and a bit of jet lag kicking in, we decided to enjoy a traditional meals of moules frites {mussels and fries}. Rick Steves was our trusted guide {or rather his book} and he suggested the touristy yet fun Chez Leon. We started with a simple tomato salad and then enjoyed a big old pot of mussels in white wine broth with shallots and garlic. So good and they provide plenty of bread to soak up all the broth.

While touring around the Sablon neighborhood on our second day, we stumbled upon a delightful delicatessen shop Claire Fontaine that had the most beautiful prepared lunches and decided to grab a few bites to enjoy at their little tables outside {three in total}. I highly recommend visiting this little shop, if even just to enjoy the smells.

Sadly, our dinner recommendation for our final night was a bit disappointing {Lola} but some places I had on the list that we didn’t get to try include: Les Filles and Mammouth.

Do + See

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One of the main reasons why K and I decided to keep Brussels on the itinerary was purely driven by our vices… she loves beer and I love chocolate and thus many of the things we did involved finding good beer and tasting delicious chocolate!

At the top of our beer list was a visit to Brewery Cantillon, which began brewing in 1900 and today uses the same method for crafting their Lambic beers. Although the Lambic {sour} beer is not my thing, we learned so much about the process. Did you know that spiders keep away harmful insects as they serve as effective predators to maintain a biological equilibrium in the brewery? With that, a Lambic brewer will never destroy a cobweb and killing spiders is very much frowned upon. How cool!

As for chocolate, there are so many different places to visit. My favorites included Elisabeth, a shop that represents several local Belgian artisans. Their belief: better souls make better treats! I picked up the most delicious dark chocolate Orangette. “One of the things you should try once in your life, is the flavour waltz of chocolate and orange.” And what a waltz… these didn’t make it back to the states with me. In 1919, Mary began as a chocolate shop that is now claimed to be the favorite of the Belgian royalty. It was in this shop that I learned what makes a true Belgian praline. What sold me here was not only the flavors and variety but the packaging. Perfect for all the gifts I needed to bring home!

As for the sights to see, there aren’t too many. The Grand Place, Notre Dame du Sablon, the Royal Palace and of course the Manneken-Pis, the statue of the little boy peeing. From what I’ve read, this statue represents the freedom and joie de vivre of living in Brussels. A place where happy people eat, drink… and drink and then pee. On this particular day, he was dressed in old army gear. Some days he isn’t dressed and other days he is. Just depends on your luck!

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Oh Brussels, you are certainly a place where we ate and drank quite a bit. Next time we visit, we will be sure to check out The Comic Strip Center and the Musical Instrument Museum.